STRINE PRINTING — THE PRINTER’S CANDY STORE
AROUND EACH turn of every corner stood a reminder of the greatness that is Strine Printing.
Dave Kornbau, the company’s vice president of operations, was a popular man while providing a walking tour in early August. His cell phone rang every few minutes. Co-workers handed him press samples here and there. Quick questions received lightning-fast answers. It was like watching an episode of “The West Wing,” the White House drama, only without the constant scowls.
Kornbau paused and gestured toward bulletin board-type displays that adorned the hallway walls. Rich colors and textures were everywhere. Sparkling ceiling mobiles danced in the cool air, their diecut sections twisting in alternating directions. It made the onlooker want to run out and buy the Lego spaceship building block set immediately. The same goes for Crayola crayons, produced by Binney and Smith—the common retail customer has no concept of just how many different Crayola packages exist. But they’re all here.
Facsimiles of NASCAR race car drivers stood shoulder to shoulder in one room, but someone had chopped off poor Tony Stewart’s head and replaced it with their own. Ah, the beauty of large- format printing.
Yet another room acted as a temple of trading cards—baseball, football, basketball…wait, are those Playboy centerfolds on an uncut sheet? As if sports cards weren’t enough, marketers had come up with the idea to take the venerable trading card and make it more appealing. Piles of cards rose high like skyscrapers, or poker chips. A wall of paste white, 800-count boxes housed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cards. (See Bits and Pieces on page 18 for more on Strine’s card printing operation.)
More bulletin boards showcased Strine’s prowess, and soon something became easily apparent…there were no boring black-and-white samples to be found. Surely they had to be there, somewhere. Over in the corner stood a pallet with a short stack of generic diaper boxes, and even they were fascinating.
Two other noteworthy observations: For a printing plant, the place was remarkably clean. Secondly, they must have hidden any dead-eyed-fish employees on staff, for everyone seemed upbeat and interested in their jobs. It was as if Tony Robbins was stroking the Heidelbergs and Susan Powter was spearheading the hand assembly team.
Back in his office, Kornbau permitted himself a slight grin as he gestured toward a Rambo-esque picture of himself on the wall, touting water-pumping munitions. It was taken recently at the company picnic.
“Out of 375 employees, we had 325 people sign up to come,” he says proudly. “What does that tell you about our company?”
It didn’t take a signup sheet to know that people love working at Strine Printing and, if the tour hadn’t confirmed this, one of the final stops cinched it. Strine’s quality control room stood as a shrine toward what workers can accomplish when they give their best effort. Shelves and shelves of product bombarded the senses: packaging samples, trading and greeting cards, large-format displays, point-of-purchase/point-of-sale items. It was easily the commercial printer’s candy store.
“When it comes time to roll up our sleeves and get the job done, we’re pretty much a team,” Kornbau says.
Strine Printing is nestled in York, PA, the heart of Amish country. Founded in 1947 by Walter Strine, the business has grown to $78 million in annual sales on the strength of the aforementioned categories, as well as the production of annual reports and brochures.
Its three-pronged attack of large- format printing, package printing and digital printing has kept the company in forward thinking mode, far away from the “alternative media” traps that have cannibalized the commercial printing sector.
While this sheetfed printer largely remains a commercial operation—roughly 60 percent of its business falls under that umbrella—its future is clearly cemented in progressive printing. In order to reach that goal, Strine Printing hasn’t been afraid to invest in newer technologies, according to Pat Strine, chairman.
“We’re completely computer-to-plate with new Kodak Creo front-end systems that we installed this year,” Pat Strine notes. “We have full-blown Prinergy front end and Nexus PCC workflows, which allowed us to take large files that most companies would choke on, and get them direct-to-plate. That enabled us to go into large-format printing.”
Of course, it helps that Strine boasts one of, if not the largest, single-location sheetfed press arsenals in the country. In addition to seven 40˝ Heidelberg presses, Strine has added three MAN Roland large-format monsters: a pair of six-color, 54˝ Roland 900s and a six-color, 73˝ Roland 900 XXL with coater.
Before the end of the year, Strine will have bridged the gap between the 55˝ and 73˝ models with the installation of a seven color, 64˝ Roland 900 XXL equipped with UV capabilities, double coater and an extended delivery. According to MAN Roland, the acquisition will make Strine the top user of 900s in North America in terms of printing units and capacity.
In picking up the 64˝ machine, Strine will be able to take on different types of P-O-P jobs. The UV double coater provides spot UV printing, and the press can handle substrates including vinyls, plastics and mylar, Pat Strine remarks.
When CEO Mike Strine saw the 73˝ Roland and pondered opportunities that large-format sheetfed printing could offer, he immediately knew that Strine Printing was going to be a part of this movement.
“We’re looking at areas where we see higher end packaging, especially cosmetic packaging, going to the UV process,” he says. “I anticipate that one day all printing will be UV because it eliminates a lot of problems. We were looking for areas where we could stand out and be different, areas where there was a strong demand.”
Digital printing is another strength for Strine, which relies on a foursome of HP Indigo presses—an UltraStream 2000, an S2000 for printing on plastics and two seven-color 3050s. Strine provides variable data printing (VDP) and customer relationship management (CRM) for its existing clients, without really marketing the capability.
“Customers are starting to realize the benefits of personalization,” Pat Strine remarks. “We’ve done projects with pharmaceutical companies where the return is 3 percent on a mass marketed type of fulfillment versus 12 percent for a direct CRM personalization type program. Everyone’s starting to understand it a little more and, as they do, the digital end is really going to take off.”
Finishing has become another source of pride for Strine Printing, which draws upon capabilities such as foil stamping, embossing, die-cutting, lenticular, thermography, and UV and film lamination. Strine marries the digital end with these finishing techniques most notably on its trading cards, and new card applications are being discovered routinely.
For example, card manufacturer Topps sends the printer a wide variety of game- or event-used material that is then incorporated right into the card. At first, it was mainly game jerseys that were carved into postage stamp-sized grids and married to the cards. Baseballs, bats and gloves, basketballs, footballs, even hockey pucks, got in on the act.
Most recently, lug nuts and tires for auto racing cards have been sent in for the printer to break down. Asphalt from the race track is mixed in with the UV coating to add another dimension to the card, and Strine even worked with an outside company to replicate the smell of burning rubber.
As for other services/capabilities, Strine has a custom kitting department that is popular with its pharmaceutical clients. The printer also boasts three in-house sheeters for a majority of stocks under 80˝, passing along the savings to its sheetfed clientele. And procuring paper doesn’t require as long a lead time, which makes it easier on schedules and allows Strine to turn jobs around quicker.
“We save a considerable percent on paper by sheeting it in-house,” Pat Strine notes. “It gives us more flexibility—sheeting on-demand as opposed to waiting.”
Flexibility, adds Mike Strine, is one of the chief differentiating factors that sets Strine Printing apart from the competition. The company has turned aside numerous acquisition overtures, wanting the independence to make quick calls on capital equipment purchases or any decision that could impact Strine’s ability to service its customers.
“We don’t have a lot of fat, or a lot of layers to go through,” he says.
The Strine brothers envision the company taking the next step up the press size ladder with the acquisition of an 81˝ KBA Rapida press in 2007. Some of the 40˝ Heidelberg presses may be swapped out with newer machines, most likely new Heidelbergs, and more money will be invested in the prepress arena.
Mostly, Pat Strine says, it will be a matter of adjusting to outside influences, letting them dictate the course of action.
Mike Strine feels the strength for his company, going forward, definitely lies in the large-format/package printing/digital printing trinity, including areas such as cosmetic packaging, UV packaging and P-O-P/P-O-S pieces. The printer still hopes to maintain its commercial share, but is fortified by the knowledge that few competitors could make the financial commitment to crowd Strine’s growth space.
“Most of our growth has been through word of mouth,” Mike Strine remarks. “We need to maintain Walter Strine’s vision—reinvest, never say ‘no’ and ‘without the customer, you don’t have anything.’ ” PI